On this note, I would like to play devil’s advocate. The point I made below has been haunting me for a while. I have not reached a conclusion yet. It would be great to hear your ideas.
It is obvious that the treatment of commodities is very crucial for whole Marxian theory. So, Marx spends a lot of time in explaining it. While he investigates the secrets of commodities he also begins laying down the concepts of his grand theory. At the beginning, when he investigates the nature of commodities, he makes an interesting move. He put great emphasize on exchange value and abstract from use value although he brings use-value to the picture later. I feel that this would be more problematic than is seems to be.
He argues that “if then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour”.
He iterates this position later in the same page:
He goes on saying: “We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use value”p.46
Indeed, this move seems to be necessary to argue that:
“There is nothing left but what is common to them all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract” which is the foundation of labour theory of value.
But, at the end of the section 1 of Chapter 1 Marx reaches the conclusion that “to become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use value, by means of an exchange.) Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labor contained in it; the labour does not count as labour , and creates no value.”
In this sense, he closes the circle and argues that “being the object of utility” is the necessary condition for defining commodity. This means that, as he clearly accepts, commodities have two common characteristics: i) they are products of labor and ii) they are subject of utility. Therefore, his earlier move (abstraction) which puts all the emphasis on the fact that a commodity is a product of labour, seems to be a choice rather than a necessity. I feel that this opens a possibility of discussion that the value of a commodity cannot be defined independent of the fact that it is a subject of utility. If one introduces this (utility) at an earlier stage, the theory of value may have different form.